Madero, Francisco Indalecio (1873–1913)

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Madero, Francisco Indalecio (1873–1913)

Francisco Indalecio Madero (b. 30 October 1873; d. 22 February 1913), revolutionary leader and president of Mexico (1911–1913). Madero is best known for his key role in the overthrow of the dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1911 and his forced resignation and assassination in February 1913 by antirevolutionary elements headed by Victoriano Huerta.

Madero was born on the Hacienda de El Rosario, Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila, to one of the wealthiest industrial and landowning families in Mexico, headed by his grandfather, Evaristo Madero, and his father, Francisco Madero Hernández. He studied in Parras, Coahuila, and at the Jesuit Colegio de San Juan, Saltillo, Coahuila, before taking business courses at Mount Saint Mary's College near Baltimore, Maryland (1886–1888). In France he attended the Liceo de Versailles and the Higher Business School in Paris (1887–1892). Subsequently he took classes in agriculture at the University of California at Berkeley (1893). Upon his return to Mexico, Madero founded a business school in San Pedro de las Colonias, Coahuila, where he also administered a family business and practiced homeopathic medicine, spiritism, and vegetarianism.

While working in rural Mexico, Madero came into direct contact with many of its problems, which he attributed to the lack of a liberal, democratic political system. When Porfirio Díaz claimed in the Creel-man interview that he would be willing to step down and allow free and open elections, Madero published La sucesión presidencial en 1910 (The Presidential Succession of 1910 [1908]), which called for freedom of suffrage, nonreelection of high public officials, and rotations in office. The book's appeal (the initial run of 3,000 copies sold out in three months) and its author's dogged determination and persuasive powers led to the formation in May 1909 of the Anti-Reelectionist Center of Mexico.

Within a few months, Madero's anti-reelectionist movement, and then party, had attracted a large enough following to pose a serious threat to the dictatorship. Madero traveled constantly throughout the country, dedicating himself to propagandizing, recruiting, and helping establish political clubs for the cause. The party's national convention, held in Mexico City in April 1910, attracted nearly 200 delegates from all the states and territories but four.

In early June 1910 authorities arrested Madero in Monterrey, Nuevo León, and then transferred him to the city of San Luis Potosí. He was incarcerated in order to remove him from the political scene until after the 26 June 1910 election, which Díaz and his vice presidential running mate, Ramón Corral Verdugo (1854–1912), using fraudulent means, won handily. During that summer in San Luis Potosí, Madero made the decision to escape and challenge the Díaz regime with arms. In early October he fled north to San Antonio, Texas, where he and others drew up the Plan of San Luis Potosí, which called for revolution on 20 November 1910.

The arrests of Madero agents resulted in the confiscation of documents outlining the revolutionary plans for all of central Mexico, thus forcing the conspirators' hands. As a result, Aquiles Serdán (1877–1910) prematurely and futilely raised his revolt on 18 November in the state of Puebla, thus ending any chance of catching the government by surprise. The rebellion sputtered and nearly died, and Madero fled back to Texas for safety.

Only in the state of Chihuahua did any significant rebel activity continue, principally under the leadership of Pascual Orozco. His successes, along with others in the northwest part of the country, convinced Madero to return to Mexico in mid-February 1911. Within weeks the insurgency spread to many areas of the nation and involved thousands of fighters, including followers of Emiliano Zapata (1879–1919) in Morelos. On 10 May 1911, the important border city of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, fell. On 21 May Díaz signed the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez, thereby relinquishing power to an interim government headed by his ambassador to Washington, Francisco León De La Barra. Madero's revolutionaries took control of the country.

Following elections, Madero assumed the constitutional presidency on 6 November 1911, but much of the popular support he had enjoyed the previous May had already disappeared. Once in office Madero proved incapable of stemming the disintegration of his movement.

Madero's difficulties arose from several complex and interrelated factors. First, Madero's social and political outlook had little in common with that of the majority of his followers. He came from a moderately conservative upper-class family that believed in elite rule and a paternalistic relationship with the lower classes. Madero felt comfortable with the upper classes and barely related to the peasants and workers in his movement, most of whom had rural, traditional backgrounds.

Madero's social values in turn shaped his political ideas. He believed that the establishment of a liberal, constitutional, democratic political system would ensure the free election of good men who then would deal with such problem areas as labor, land, education, and taxes. He therefore rejected many of his lower-class and rural supporters' calls for rapid and far-reaching socioeconomic reforms and advocated the more conservative positions of middle- and upper-class elements, many of whom were former supporters of the Díaz regime.

Second, the heterogeneous and disorganized nature of Madero's movement contributed greatly to its demise. The revolution between November 1910 and May 1911 mobilized several thousands of mainly radical, rural, and lower-class fighters throughout the country. The vast majority took advantage of Madero's call to arms to seek redress of local and sometimes personal grievances; they were unaware of or indifferent to Madero's pronouncements. This large, dispersed, and varied movement wanted immediate satisfaction of its demands. Incapable of satisfying his more radical supporters, Madero lost control in the rural areas where they were mainly based.

Third, Madero made a series of political decisions in the weeks following Díaz's surrender that quickly alienated his more radical adherents (and some moderates) and gave his conservative opponents a chance to regroup. Although professing a policy of nonintervention in state and local affairs (he left the Porfirian-era state legislatures intact), Madero intervened in the selection of many other state and local officials. For example, he named governors who generally were middle-aged, educated, and urban-oriented rather than the revolutionary leaders who fought to put him into power.

Madero also alienated many of his followers when he created a new political party, the Constitutionalist Progressive Party (PCP) to replace the Anti-Reelectionist Party. They felt that Madero was discarding an important symbol of the revolution and betraying a loyal supporter, Francisco Vázquez Gómez (1860–1934), whom Madero replaced as his vice presidential running mate. At the same time, Madero compounded the ill feeling toward him by agreeing to the ouster from his cabinet of Emilio Vázquez Gómez (1858–1926), Francisco's brother and one of the staunchest defenders of the left wing of the movement.

Maderista officers and troops also chafed over Madero's decision to demobilize them and maintain the Porfirian army as the only official force in Mexico. When they resisted and clashed with federal units (most notably in Puebla City in mid-July 1911), Madero resorted to the hated draft to build up the regular army and converted newly demobilized insurgents into rurales (rural police during Díaz's regime) to fight their former colleagues.

Finally, Madero proved slow to implement the reform program he had promised. The federal government could and did undertake some measures, such as the creation of a labor department and the construction of schools. However, the lack of resources, Madero's belated assumption of the presidency, his selective reluctance to interfere in non-federal governmental affairs, and the fact that most reforms directly involved state and local levels of administration meant that Madero mostly had only an indirect say in what reforms were implemented.

Beginning in the summer of 1911, the disillusionment of much of his left wing and the continued adamant opposition of the conservatives, supported in part by backsliding moderate Maderistas who feared the increasingly violent masses, led to a series of rebellions, two of which most seriously threatened the regime.

After Díaz's fall, the Zapatistas waited for Madero's government to fulfill its promises, especially those regarding the restitution and protection of communal lands. They became especially angered when federal authorities demanded their demobilization. Zapata tried to reason with Madero, but President León de la Barra, who considered the Zapatistas rural bandits, sent General Victoriano Huerta to subdue them. Thus provoked into rebellion in August 1911, the Zapatistas were soon operating over a wide area of south-central Mexico. In November 1911, they issued the Plan of Ayala, their formal declaration of rebellion, which called for agrarian reform and the overthrow of Madero. Although never able to topple the national government during the Madero period, the Zapatistas made life miserable for provincial authorities and elites, sapped the government's resources, and undermined its military and political credibility.

The second major rebellion occurred in Chihuahua, where Pascual Orozco, financed by the conservative Terrazas-Creel clan, rebelled in early March 1912. His defeat of the federal army at Rellano, Chihuahua, on 23 March forced Madero to turn to Huerta to save the regime. Huerta defeated Orozco's forces at Rellano on 23 May 1911. The Orozquistas fled to the mountains from where they, too, carried on guerrilla warfare, thus also sapping the limited resources of the regime and forcing Madero to focus on a military solution to his problems.

In early 1913, with his movement in tatters, his credibility gone, and his government bankrupt and besieged, Madero faced a rebellion (whose events are referred to as the decena trágica, or tragic ten days [9-19 February 1913]) within the federal army, which was led by Félix Díaz, Manuel Mondragón, and Bernardo Reyes. The seriousness of the revolt forced Madero once again to turn to Huerta to save his government. During the ensuing battle, Huerta, with the aid of U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson (1857–1932), plotted with the rebels against Madero. On 19 February, Huerta forced Madero to resign and assumed the interim presidency. On 22 February, government agents executed Madero and his vice president, José María Pino Suárez (1869–1913), probably upon Huerta's orders.

Madero became a martyr, and his name entered the pantheon of revolutionary heroes as the father of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. He has been portrayed as a well-meaning, progressive democrat who was betrayed by the dark forces of dictatorship and foreign intervention. A more recent assessment, however, depicts him as the person who catalyzed the heterogeneous and dispersed revolutionary movement that managed to overthrow the Díaz regime, yet who did not have the ability or vision to institutionalize that movement and carry out the fundamental socioeconomic reforms necessary to meet the demands of the vast majority of his followers who put him into power. In fact, he oftentimes used autocratic methods to keep those very followers in check to the benefit of Mexico's more conservative and economically privileged groups.

See alsoDecena Trágica; Mexico, Wars and Revolutions: Mexican Revolution.


Héctor Águilar Camín, La frontera nómada: Sonora y la revolución mexicana (1977).

William H. Beezley, Insurgent Governor: Abraham González and the Mexican Revolution in Chihuahua (1973).

William H. Beezley, "Madero: The 'Unknown' President and His Political Failure to Organize Rural Mexico," in Essays on the Mexican Revolution: Revisionist Views of the Leaders, edited by George Wolfskill and Douglas W. Richmond (1979), pp. 1-24.

Charles C. Cumberland, Mexican Revolution: Genesis Under Madero (1952).

François-Xavier Guerra, Le Méxique de l'ancien régime à la révolution, 2 vols. (1985).

John M. Hart, Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution (1987), esp. pp. 237-262.

Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, 2 vols. (1986).

David G. La France, The Mexican Revolution in Puebla, 1908–1913: The Maderista Movement and the Failure of Liberal Reform (1989).

David G. La France, "Many Causes, Movements, Failures, 1910–1913," in Provinces of the Revolution: Essays on Regional Mexican History, 1910–1929, edited by Thomas Benjamin and Mark Wasserman (1990), pp. 17-40.

Stanley R. Ross, Francisco I. Madero: Apostle of Mexican Democracy (1955).

Ramón Eduardo Ruíz, The Great Rebellion: Mexico, 1905–1924 (1980), esp. pp. 139-152.

Alfonso Taracena, Francisco I. Madero: Biografía (1969).

Additional Bibliography

Katz, Friedrich. De Díaz a Madero. México, D.F.: Ediciones Era, 2004.

Méndez Reyes, Jesús. La política económica durante el gobierno de Francisco I. Madero. México: Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de la Revolución Mexicana, 1996.

McLynn, Frank. Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2001.

                                      David LaFrance